This is part one of a guide to making friends with the Siddur, the Jewish Prayer Book. We will be continuing the discussion Sunday, February 12th at 11 am at Adat Shalom Synagogue. It is open to everybody who is open to nurturing their own spirituality.
The purpose of the Siddur is to help your spiritual development
(It is not your responsibility to make the Siddur happy)
The Jewish prayer book, the Siddur, can be a helpful tool for developing your own spiritual life, but it can also be a tremendous barrier. Too often, we come into the sanctuary and immediately start looking for the right page. Once we find it the next page has been called and we are starting to feel a little frustrated. If we don’t know the order of the service or if we are not very good at Hebrew we begin to grow a little resentful at the Siddur, it starts to feel a little heavy in our hands. You feel like a pretty competent adult in the rest of your life, but now you are having a waking version of the dream of not knowing what you are doing in school. By the time services have over we have probably checked out emotionally and spiritually and are relieved that at least the cake at kiddush will make our day a sweet one.
I want us to think about the Siddur not as a book, but as a place where we can find a sense of comfort, peace, meaning and joy. I offer the following as a guide that I hope will help you make friends with the Siddur, or at least a close acquaintance you are happy to see on a regular basis.
1. You do not have to go to the page we announce. You do not have to go to any page of the service we are praying at the time. You may even browse completely at random. If you find something that moves or interests you, stick with that for a while. We only announce pages to let you know where we are in the formal service. You may join in at the parts you enjoy, and then go back to browsing at other times.
2.You do not have to open the Siddur at all. This is your time. If you just want to think quietly, please do so. I would just recommend standing when the congregation stands and sit when they do, not necessarily for religious reasons, but that so others around you won’t (politely) suggest you stand or sit. It is, though, ultimately your decision.
3. Bring something else to read that you find spiritually uplifting. I would love to hear what it is.
4. Even if you are planning on following the formal service it would be helpful to begin by asking yourself the following questions. Don’t be afraid of the answers or be concerned that they may not be Jewish enough. Allow yourself to think and feel what you really think and feel. Theses questions and your responses will give you insight on what you should be focusing on once you do begin praying, and will help you with the rest of your day, too.
Questions before prayer
To Whom are you speaking?
What do you need today?
What are you happy about?
What are you afraid of?
How do you feel?
How do you want to feel?